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5% on your Council tax, but drastic cuts

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Independent County Councillor Claire Wright explains how the Government is forcing Devon people to pay 5% more while services are slashed. This follows a 4% rise last year -and 5% a year is likely to be the pattern until 2020.  This is as unfair as the Poll Tax: we should not be putting up with this. Claire’s questions to Hugo Swire are for Neil Parish, too.

Devon’s council tax will rise by 4.99 per cent from April, following yesterday’s budget meeting. More services and backroom functions are being cut, including road maintenance, community composting payments, as well as funding for vulnerable children and adults services.

Government ministers, who have forced councils, and as a consequence, citizens (mainly vulnerable ones and those on low incomes) across the country into austerity have this year allowed councils to increase tax to higher levels, to offset in a very small way the massive cuts they have made to council budgets.

This year the government has slashed £23m from Devon County Council’s budgets – a 15 per cent cut in the seventh year of austerity.

According to the scrutiny budget papers of 30 January, fewer people will be eligible for social care, due to budgetary pressures. Page 88 states:  “This (budget) requires an overall reduction in the number of clients to achieve budget levels.”

It goes on to state on page 89: “The scale of change is likely to severely test the capacity of managers at different levels, especially where pressures of essential work cannot be reprioritised without risk to those who receive services.”

Over half of Devon County Council’s budget has now been cut since 2010.  More than £267 million over the last seven years.

The council tax rise will cost the average Band D council taxpayer £1.16 a week extra. Devon County Council leader, John Hart said in a press release:  “I believe we are justified in asking for that to help protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

Of course, he really has no choice with the crisis in social care that is present. This year’s budget was around £5m overspent due to increasing costs of care and massive government budget cuts.

While £1.16 a week extra might be shrugged off by people who are comfortably off. Others on a tight budget, those who are struggling to pay debts and bills, will regard it as yet another burden..

The government says it can’t afford to look after its sick, its vulnerable and its elderly, so it encourages councils to increase council tax instead. Pushing a huge burden onto residents. Charging the taxpayer significant sums of money for poorer and fewer services.

And of course, this isn’t the only council tax rise that people will have to swallow. The likelhood is that district councils will hike their tax, Devon and Cornwall Police has already announced it is increasing its council tax and the fire authority will also surely, like it did last year to increase its council tax.

That’s a massive year on year increase in council tax, for fewer and poorer services. Each year as the cost to taxpayers rise, the services get sparser and poorer.

According to a report out this week almost a third of the population of Britain is living on an ‘inadequate’ income. More people than ever are using foodbanks and homelessness has rocketed.

How do ministers sleep at night knowing that it is their policies, their ideology, their own selfish version of how they believe a society should operate, that are causing this awful hardship… in the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world.

Hugo Swire MP has expressed concern about social care funding and the closure of hospital beds.

But if Hugo Swire was REALLY concerned and REALLY serious about these issues, he would vote AGAINST the council budget cuts in the House of Commons next Wednesday afternoon (23 February).

But so far he, along with his conservative colleagues have quietly voted in favour, hoping no one will notice.

Once again this year, I will notice. And I will sure everyone notices how he and his colleagues vote.

Because this vote surely goes to the absolute heart of whether Mr Swire really cares about his constituents or is little more than a party yes man.

Here’s the webcast of yesterday’s budget meeting – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/244712

Cutting West Seaton out of Seaton

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The Boundary Commission for England has made proposals which would take part of Seaton ‘around Beer Road’ – which the map shows means the area to the west of Castle Hill/Marlpit Lane and to the south of Bunts Lane – out of the Seaton district council ward and puts it into Beer and Branscombe ward.

Because the area would then be in a different district ward from the rest of Seaton, it would be also be a separate ward for town council election purposes, with one councillor (the rest of Seaton would be another ward, with 11).

The Commission justifies this on grounds of ‘electoral equality‘, i.e. ensuring that each ward has roughly the same number of voters per councillor. However while this change would leave Seaton ward with just 1% over the recommended number of voters, it would leave the expanded Beer and Branscombe ward 5% over.

It seems that Beer and Branscombe parish councils are behind the drive to expand their ward. Alternatives to ‘include either Salcombe Regis from Sidmouth parish or the parish of Southleigh’ were rejected because they ‘would not meet our statutory criteria of community identity.’ Bizarrely, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Commission that West Seaton citizens might have feelings about having their Seaton identity taken away!

This is now out for consultation until 3rd April and will be considered by Seaton Town Council. By coincidence, the AGM of the West Seaton & Seaton Hole Association takes place on Thursday 16th February (at the Marshlands Centre, Harbour Road, starting at 7 pm). We will add this to the agenda.

Here is what the Commission says in full:

‘Beer & Branscombe, Coly Valley and Seaton 35 We received a number of different suggestions for this area. One of the two district-wide warding patterns we received proposed that the parish of Southleigh be added to the existing Beer & Branscombe ward to improve electoral equality. The other district submission suggested that a part of Seaton parish be included in Beer & Branscombe ward but did not specify a proposed boundary.

36 We received submissions from both Beer Parish Council and Branscombe Parish Council that accepted that the current ward of Beer & Branscombe needed to be extended to provide for better electoral equality. It was suggested that either an area around Seaton Hole or Salcombe Regis be added to the current ward. We visited the area and considered all proposals. We concluded that to include either Salcombe Regis from Sidmouth parish or the parish of Southleigh would not meet our statutory criteria of community identity. A ward coterminous with Seaton parish would not provide for acceptable electoral equality. Therefore, we have included an area of Seaton parish around Beer Road in our Beer & Branscombe ward. This provides for good electoral equality for both our proposed Beer & Branscombe and Seaton wards. Coly Valley ward remains unchanged, which was supported by a submission from one of the parish councils in this ward.’

Diabolical cuts to Devon funding

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Independent County Councillor Claire Wright, bottom right, says (see full post here):

budgetscrutinyjan17‘Fewer people are set to be eligible to receive social care in Devon in the coming year, following the latest required budget cuts, due to government austerity measures.

At the same time Devon County’s council tax is set to rise by three per cent from April, to try and cope with the latest massive loss in income.

At yesterday’s joint budget scrutiny meeting councillors agreed to urge all Devon MPs to speak AND vote against the council cuts debate in the House of Commons, which is expected to take place early in February.

Between April 2017 and March 2018 a huge £23m must be struck from budgets – a 15 per cent cut.

We are now in the eighth year of austerity and Devon County Council’s annual government grant has plummeted by well over half – from £283m in 2010 to £128m.

We continue to see our roads break and fracture. The government gives councils a fraction of the money that has been cut and the blames councils when it can’t repair all the roads. Some roads are simply deteriorating and will not be properly repaired.

Almost all Devon County Council run care homes have shut, Devon County Council run youth centres have closed and many bus routes were lost or cut back.

… Children’s homes closed and funding has been cut for vulnerable children and adults.

Last month, the council removed some of the schools’ budget for special needs funding to make its books balance.  This has plunged more Devon schools into an even worse financially austere position.’

Exeter & SW depend on EU trade

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Exeter is the city in the UK, and the South West the region, most dependent on trade with the EU, according to a new report. We already risk losing European tourism, which benefits Seaton and other coastal towns.

We should not be losing our membership of the European Single Market (which was not what we voted on in the referendum) for the nebulous prospect of a trade deal with Donald Trump, who believes trade deals should be skewed to the US, not the other party.

Once again confirmed, Devon is ‘unaffordable’

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Devon is one of the least affordable places in Britain for people who want to own their own homes, according to a new report.

Seaton Primary faces £34k cut

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img_9530-1220x640I have now seen figures (sent to schools as part of the consultation) which show the losses local schools would have taken if the new National Funding Formula had been implemented in 2016-17:

  • SEATON PRIMARY SCHOOL (right) £34,000 (-2.7% of total allocation)
  • COLYTON GRAMMAR SCHOOL £81,000 (-2.9%)

Axe Valley Community College funding would have been almost the same as existing (+0.1%), and Colyton Primary School would have seen a small (+0.7%) rise.

As Independent County Councillor Claire Wright said, the new system is supposed to be ‘fairer’ – but many East Devon schools are losing out! We need to press our MP, Neil Parish, to ensure that local schools are protected from cuts when the new system finally comes in next year.

The Department for Education’s consultation documents can be found here

Now it’s schools being cut

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Independent County Councillor, Claire Wright, writes (picture: Seaton Primary School):img_9530-1220x640Last week every Devon County Councillor received a letter from the Devon Association of Primary Headteachers and the Devon Association of Secondary Heads (DAPH and DASH).

The message is depressingly familiar.  And simply cements my long held belief that this government is steadily dismantling public services and instead squandering that money in tax breaks for the wealthy, government consultants, a third runway at Heathrow, a war in Syria and many more things that shouldn’t remotely be a government priority.

Like many other public services in Devon, including health and social care, education in Devon gets a rough deal in the government funding formula. It is near the very bottom of the UK league table on per pupil funding, short by over £290 a head, which is equivalent to a £25.5m shortfall across the county’s schools.

Devon County Council has lobbied central government on this issue for a very long time, unfortunately with very little effect.

Last year, there was an unexpected flurry of activity among Devon Conservative MPs, who were suddenly coincidentally apparently pushing at an open door. The outcome was the government agreed to introduce a new and fairer funding formula for schools.

Unfortunately and sadly, the government has backtracked on its promise to do this by April 2017.  It has been delayed by one year, leaving schools, especially those in our county, in limbo and increasingly desperate for funds.

To make matters worse, new education initiatives have been introduced by central government BUT without any extra funding to help schools cope. These include:

– young people with special educational needs now being able to remain in education until 25
– the removal of the education services grant from next year
– extensive house building across the county
– increases in staffing costs, including the living wage, pensions, and national insurance contributions
– the introduction of the apprenticeship levy from next April, resulting in a bill for Devon County Council run schools of £424,000

The ongoing financial situation for Devon schools means that 26 schools across the county are now predicting a deficit at the end of this financial year.

The letter, which is signed by Paul Walker (DAPH) and Matthew Shanks (DASH), paints a bleak picture. It states:  “…. Schools have financially now reached a real crisis point in the immediate future.

… “urgent necessity to take some very undesirable as well as far-reaching decisions to reduce costs in order to balance the finite resources available.

“Sadly, the implications of these decisions will undoubtedly impact upon the children in our care, including those from some of our most vulnerable families, and these will ultimately manifest further into the wider community.”

The letter urges local councillors to act on their behalf by lobbying education ministers to implement an urgent solution to “mitigate the impact of the present crisis.”

I will be writing to my own MP, Hugo Swire about this, but PLEASE, wherever you are reading this in Devon, write to your own MP and urge them to lobby ministers for more funding for our schools and retain the excellent education that our children deserve.